Why Brazil, Even Without Neymar, Are Germany's Toughest Opponents Yet

Clark Whitney@@Mr_BundesligaFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2014

Germany's Philipp Lahm, center, smiles at the end of  the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Germany and France at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, July 4, 2014. Germany won the match 1-0.  . (AP Photo/David Vincent)
David Vincent/Associated Press

Fate has had a complicated way of affecting the German national team at the 2014 World Cup. When the draw was announced, the path to the title looked extremely difficult: a group that contained Portugal, Ghana and the USA followed by the seemingly high probability of having to face tournament co-favorites Brazil and Spain in the knockout rounds.

To make matters worse, Die Mannschaft's only truly in-form star, Marco Reus, was ruled out of the tournament just days before it began, and at the time of the first kick, Joachim Low only had a handful of fully fit players.

Since the tournament began, however, Germany have had some luck. Bogey team Italy were eliminated in the group stage, as were a Spain side that eliminated Die Mannschaft at Euro 2008 and in the 2010 World Cup. And although they will indeed face Brazil in the semifinal, the Selecao will be without their best attacker and their best defender.

Thiago Silva's foolish yellow card against Colombia has seen him suspended for the match, while a fractured vertebra ended Neymar's World Cup dreams early.

Germany, therefore, would seem to be at an advantage heading into the semifinal. And indeed, the scale has tipped in their direction. But to declare Low's side out-and-out favorites would be a mistake. Though wounded, Brazil will be an enormous test for Die Mannschaft, certainly their biggest yet.

The obvious advantage for Brazil is that they will play on their home soil. While many teams have faltered at the World Cup, the physical burden of playing so many minutes in Brazilian heat and humidity taking its toll, the hosts seem to be spurred on by their fans. The motivation to win is ever-present for Brazil, who will be bolstered by the vast majority of a crowd of up to 58,170 in Tuesday's match.

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The expectation in Brazil is that the host nation will reach the final one way or another. And referees seem to have done their part to help the Selecao advance.

In the group-stage opener, Brazil benefited from a very generous penalty decision. Referee Yuichi Nishimura was much more strict later on when Croatia were denied a goal for a supposed foul by Ivica Olic against goalkeeper Julio Cesar.

After the game, Croatia coach Niko Kovac warned (h/t Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph) that the World Cup could become "a circus." It would not be the final controversy that served in Brazil's favor.

In the quarterfinal with Colombia, Brazil committed an incredible 31 fouls with Fernandinho especially targeting James Rodriguez. Referee Carlos Velasco Carballo only issued two yellow cards for the hosts, one for Thiago Silva's clear time-wasting infringement on goalkeeper David Ospina and another for a foul by Cesar that could easily have drawn a red card.

Otherwise, there was no challenge deemed too reckless and none too persistent to result in a booking for the hosts. In a column for the Daily Mail, Rio Ferdinand described referees' leniency toward Brazil as "embarrassing."

Mario Gotze upstaged Neymar in Germany's last meeting with Brazil.
Mario Gotze upstaged Neymar in Germany's last meeting with Brazil.Michael Probst/Associated Press

There is no conspiracy propelling Brazil through the World Cup, but human error is interfering with the game. As we've seen time and time again, it's difficult for a referee to make a call that opposes the will of the home team. Germany will be on level ground with Brazil if and only if the officiating is consistent. That, it seems, is anything but certain.

The other big hurdle Germany will have to overcome is their history against Brazil, which is not exactly favorable. Per WorldFootball.net, the two sides have met 21 times over the years, with Brazil winning 12 and losing just four. Brazil have won all three competitive meetings between the two teams, while Germany's wins (the most recent of which was in August 2011) have all come on home soil.

History shouldn't matter in theory, but with Germany, it somehow has an effect. Die Mannschaft still have never beaten Italy at a major tournament, their nerves having certainly gotten the better of them as they were eliminated by an entirely beatable Azzurri side at Euro 2012.

Their Euro 2008 loss to Spain could also be said to have played a factor in their utter inability to compete with La Furia Roja at the 2010 World Cup just days after hammering England and Argentina. Germany aren't supposed to beat Brazil on Tuesday, so they might just fall short in any case.

History will also play into Brazil's favor. The Selecao are now unbeaten on home soil in competitive matches for 39 years, their last such defeat having come against Peru in the 1975 Copa America. Brazil aren't the kind of team to lose at home, so why should they in what will be a rather evenly contested match?

Player for player, Germany had a significant advantage over any of the teams they met in the group stage and the round of 16. They faced a stronger France side in the quarterfinal and just barely sneaked by. Brazil have just as good a team as Les Bleus but will be backed by history and the confidence and dreams of the masses at Estadio Mineirao.

It's a winnable match, but for the Germans it will decidedly be their toughest yet.

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